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Consumers should watch out for Obamacare scammers

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(RNN) - Beginning Oct. 1, consumers will be able to create an account and start shopping for healthcare plans under the Affordable Care Act, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Unfortunately, the confusion over Obamacare has created an opportunity for scammers to prey on the public. With the goal of identity theft or robbery, the con artists target vulnerable people who don't understand how the new healthcare exchange will work or how to go about signing up for it.

Groups such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Federal Trade Commission are warning consumers about these scams and offering advice about how to avoid them as they begin signing up for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The FTC says that consumers should beware of any offers to enroll in the new Health Insurance Marketplace before Oct. 1. Consumers should hang up immediately if they receive a call from someone claiming to be from the government who asks for personal information, such as Social Security number, Medicare ID, or other personal or financial information.

A common scam is the card scam. A fraudster will call a consumer, claim to work for the government and encourage the person to immediately register for a healthcare card in order to be covered by Obamacare. The caller may go so far as to threaten the consumer with jail if they do not sign up right away and demand a bank account number or other personal information.

Seniors and low-income citizens are at risk for falling victim to scammers who impersonate ACA Navigators or Medicare officials, who are trying to get consumers to reveal their personal information. It's important to note that it is illegal for someone to sell a Health Insurance Marketplace plan to someone who has Medicare.

Fake exchanges have also popped up with the goal of duping people. These "phishing" websites are designed to look like legitimate sites, but are only there to confuse and swindle consumers. Consumers can find legitimate information about the Health Insurance Marketplace and Affordable Care Act online at Healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596.

Although not technically a scam, consumers should also be wary of discount medical plans that are not insurance. One must pay a sign-up fee and monthly fees that are supposed to entitle the subscriber to deeply discounted medical services from the participants in the network. In essence, the discount medical plans are simply lists of healthcare providers who might offer a discount on some of their services. They are not a substitute for health insurance, and will not meet the minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Consumers who have been the victim of a scam or an attempted scam, should contact the FTC Complaint Assistant or call them at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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